Tracks two - eight
Texts by Daniel Catán, Francisco Segovia, Manuel Acuña, Thomas Carew, and Christina Rosetti
In the early 1990s, Catán completed these seven selections as part of what he hoped would become a large-scale, English-language musical about the life of Mexican literary and revolutionary figure Antonieta Rivas Mercado. Working with poet Francisco Segovia, he crafted a detailed synopsis of the drama as planned, intending to place striking images and symbols throughout, as in his later stage works. The drama spans the years from 1880-1930, encompassing the decades before and after the Mexican Revolution. Antonieta was the daughter of the famed architect Antonio Rivas, who created El Ángel, the golden angel statue that graces the Paseo de Reforma in Mexico City, and the story as conceived by Catán and Segovia is a romanticized adaptation of the events of their lives.
The first two songs in this collection come from Act 1, scene 3, set in Mexico City, 1903. The Rivas household maid, while looking after the children, sings Comprendo (track 2) to entertain herself as she works. This song was reused by Catán later in his opera Il Postino, also for the purpose of setting a scene’s ambiance. This is the only selection from Antonieta that is set in Spanish; it is meant to evoke a popular song of the day.
Comprendo: I understand that your kisses will never be mine. I understand that I will never see myself in your eyes. And I love you, and in my wild and burning deliriums, I bless your disdains, I adore your rejections. And instead of loving you less, I love you much, much more. ~ Poem by Manuel Acuña (1849-1873), translated by Cecilia Duarte
The child Antonieta appears at an upstairs patio window, and creates a panic by threatening to jump. Chaos ensues, and everyone in the household sees the child leap. Suddenly, she appears calmly on the staircase, pleased with her ability to create such a fright. One of the children asks how she did it, and she replies, “I have wings!” (Nothing Can Go Wrong, track 3, text by Francisco Segovia).
In Act 1, scene 6, an older teenage Antonieta is listening to the passionate revolutionary speeches from the students at the Ateneo, and is attracted to the words of José Vasconcelos. To the shock of the crowd, Antonieta interjects that if Mexico is to truly enter a new era, the rights of women must not be left out. The two break apart from the crowd, and become acquainted. Their individual songs become intertwined in into a love duet (Duet, track 4, text by Daniel Catán), during which they see Halley's comet pass overhead. In the next scene, it is 1910, at the celebration of the Centennial of Mexican Independence. Don Antonio’s golden angel statue is inaugurated, and Antonieta sees her love Vasconcelos celebrating in the streets. It is presumed that You That Think Love (track 5, set to a poem by Thomas Carew, 1595-1639) is part of this scene, which concludes with celebratory fireworks slowly giving way to pistol shots, signifying the start of the Revolution.
Much of Act 2 depicts the post-Revolutionary years from 1920-30. At the start of Act 2, scene 5, it is 1928. Following the assassination of presidential candidate Obregon, Vasconcelos, against Antonieta’s wishes, has officially declared that his own candidacy, and is campaigning. On the other side of the stage, Antonieta sits alone, and remembers their former happiness (There Were Days, track 6, text by Segovia). Vasconcelos joins her to hear the very end of her song, and sings Trust, Antonieta (track 7, text by Segovia) in an attempt to justify his decision to enter the race. Before he finishes the song, Antonieta, distraught over her lover’s failure to live up to the ideals he had previously professed, exits quietly, planning to flee to Paris.
In the final scene (Act 2, scene 6), Vasconcelos has lost both the election and his revolutionary fervor. He decides to follow Antonieta to Paris. The scene shifts to Antonieta, who is walking through a deserted chapel in the Cathedral of Notre Dame. She sits close to an altar and sings her farewell Song (track 8), set to the well-known poem by Christina Rosetti (1830-1894). As the music reaches its climax, Antonieta shoots herself, and as the sound reverberates, the lights dim, and the stained glass rose window of Notre Dame glows in full splendor.